Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945: The Age of the Gods and Emperor Jinmu.
In this historiographical study, which complements the author's earlier Political Thought in Japanese Historical Writing: From Kojiki (712) to Tokushi Yoron (1712) (1991), John Brownlee examines how Japanese historians of the Tokugawa period (part one) and pre-war modern times (part two) have treated the mythological origins of Japan and its imperial house. Brownlee organizes his overview of all major figures in the historiography of these three and a half centuries of Japanese history around this focus in order to gauge their reliability as modern truth tellers.
According to Brownlee, a rationalistic and positivistic approach emerges during the Tokugawa period in the writings of scholars of the Hayashi house and the Mito School, a method that is further purified by Arai Hakuseki, Yamagata Banto, and Date Chihiro, but encounters resistance from the National Scholars. This rationalism became self-consciously scientific since the Meiji period, when it encountered European historiographic methods, especially through the teachings of Ludwig Riess who inaugurated the tradition of academic history in Japan. Gradually, however, this scientific research that was pursued at history departments of National Imperial Universities (mainly Tokyo and Kyoto) and the Historiographical Institute located at, but independent from Tokyo University, became difficult to reconcile with the expectations and goals the state, specifically the Ministry of Education and the Home Ministry, set for the education of Japan's imperial subjects. A series of incidents that include the firing from the University of Tokyo of Kume Kunitake in 1892 for his allegorical interpretation of the myths; a heated controversy in 1911 of how to deal with the fourteenth century imperial schism; intimidation of certain historians by ultranationalists; and the conviction in 1940 of Tsuda Sokichi from Waseda University and his publisher, Iwanami Shigeo, the founder of the famous Iwanami academic publishing press, gradually silenced the researchers and subordinated their findings to the "educational" needs of the state.
Thus, for instance, although by the 1930s there was scholarly consensus that the beginnings of Japanese history were to be located six hundred years later than the mythological 660 BC, historians fully collaborated with the government's Commission of Inquiry into Historical Sites Related to Emperor Jinmu for the 1940 celebration of the 2,600th anniversary of the founding of the Japanese Empire. While a good number of pre-war historians qualified in various ways the truth value of the "Age of the Gods" mythology, all of them, except Tsuda, accepted the historicity of the line of emperors and worked simply on revising the chronolgy. Tsuda, however, questioned the existence of the first fourteen emperors, which is why he was convicted of lese-majesty in 1942, a process that had started with the banning of one of his books on 10 February 1940, the day before the 2,600th anniversary of the empire.
In an Epilogue, Brownlee describes briefly how the "pent-up demand for historical truth" (p. 202) was met with a rewriting of textbooks one year after Japan's defeat, and discusses the 1966 re-establishment of National Foundation Day and the practical affirmation of the foundation myths through ceremonies that imply an acceptance of their historical troth, closing with an interesting comparison between the current symbolic positions of the JaPanese and British sovereigns. Even though education since 1946 has finally been fitted to the findings of scholarly research and chronologies cease to give historical credence to the first dozen or two dozen emperors, popular books, even those written by scholars, often imply that Jinmu founded the empire in 660 BC.
The reviewer found the second part of the book by far the most captivating. Some unwarranted generalizations about the acceptance of the mythological accounts of creation "by Japanese society of the early eighth century" (p. 4) or about the "tyrannical" nature of the Tokugawa government (p. 6) raise questions about the way Brownlee contextualizes the historical narratives in pre-modem Japan. Through his treatment of the post-Tokugawa historiography, however, Brownlee provides us with an excellent overview of the major historians that gave shape, for better and for worse, to Japanese history as a discipline. He treats the careers and ideas of the major figures of the Historiographical Institute (Mikami Sanji, Kuroita Katsumi, Tsuji Zennosuke) and others like the ideologue historian at the University of Tokyo, Hiraizumi Kiyoshi, and reveals, among other things the authors behind the 1937 government's ideological centerpiece Kokutai no hongi (Cardinal Principles of the Essence of Japan), one of whom turns out to be Watsuji Tetsuro. This work would constitute an excellent introduction to the modern history of the discipline of Japanese history up to the end of the Pacific War.
Herman Ooms University of California, Los Angeles
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|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Aug 1, 1999|
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